A Baltimore police officer failed to confiscate a high-powered handgun Monday from a man charged two days later in the shooting death of his girlfriend.
While police said the officer did not believe he could legally seize the .357-caliber Magnum locked in a box, the officer had a restraining order in his hand saying the suspect was to "turn over firearms to a law enforcement agency."
The oversight has angered the family of Francseea Batts, a 30-year-old mother of three who filed court papers two days before she was killed against Vincent E. Brown, charging he had beaten and threatened her life regularly for the past three years.
Brown, 33, has been charged in a warrant with first-degree murder in the killing. Police said he took the couple's 16-month-old son from their Northwood home and was being sought by authorities from New York to North Carolina.
The case has left Batts' mother, a Baltimore police officer for 16 years, questioning how well domestic abuse victims are protected and whether her colleagues on the force share any blame for her daughter's death.
"The officer let him walk out with [the gun]," said Eastern District Officer Kate Wood, struggling to hold back tears. "I'm having a problem with the fact the gun wasn't taken. If only he had taken that gun, then maybe my child wouldn't have had to die."
District Court Administrative Judge Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt said yesterday that Judge Charles A. Chiapparelli "ordered [the gun] bTC to be taken away. There's no question that [Batts] did everything she could do."
Police said last night that Officer Gordon Schluderberg, accompanied by a trainee, went to Batts' house in the 1600 block of Shadyside Road on Monday afternoon, confronted Brown with the protective order and told him to leave.
Batts had told Schluderberg that Brown kept a .357-caliber Magnum revolver in a locked box, which he was carrying as he prepared to leave Batts' home. Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a city police spokeswoman, said police were wary about opening the box. "The officers did not feel they had a legal right to search it," Cooper said.
'Scope of authority'
"It would be reasonable to assume that an officer may take a gun, especially in an instance of domestic abuse. But the officer acted in what he felt was the scope of his authority," Cooper said.
An autopsy showed that a large-caliber handgun was used in the slaying, but police said they could not conclusively say that it was a .357-caliber Magnum.
Police last night were searching for Brown and the child, Joshua Brown. Homicide Detective Oscar Requer said he believed the suspect -- whose brother is a New York City police officer -- has left the state. Police departments along the East Cost have been notified to look for a gold-colored 1997 Mazda 626 with Maryland license DXD-817.
Police are investigating whether the suspect held up a Sunoco gas station attendant in White Marsh an hour after the slaying. They said a man driving a gold-colored car with a partial tag number of 817 used a large-caliber handgun to rob the station of more than $200, telling the attendant to "have a good evening" before driving.
Gun obtained recently
Family members said that Brown got the gun during a Super Bowl party last month from a cousin visiting from New York.
Batts, along with her brother, bought the two-story red-brick house in the 1600 block of Shadyside Road four months ago. The Baltimore City Community College graduate had worked since 1993 in the Extended Therapeutic Day Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute as a full-time teaching assistant.
"She had a knack for making everyone feel special," said Batts' boss, Patrick Millard. "Everyone thought they had a special relationship with Francseea. [She] brought joy and happiness to our program."
Years of abuse alleged
In seeking the protective order Monday, Batts alleged a three-year period of abuse by her boyfriend, including one attack that she said left her unconscious. Batts said Brown had threatened to burn her house down if she ever kicked him out of the house.
According to court documents, Batts had also found her boyfriend in the basement, "getting high, sitting in the dark and talking nonsense."
On Monday, Batts returned home for lunch and found Brown in her home. She then ran next door to Kendrick Jordan's house.
"She said she wanted to call the police," Jordan recalled. "She said she had someone in her house she needed removed."
Police came and served the temporary protective order, prohibiting Brown from going near Batts, her house, her relatives' houses, her workplace and the children's schools and day-care centers. It also ordered Brown to turn over weapons to police.
A chase and shots fired
Two days later, Wednesday evening, Batts returned home from work and again found her boyfriend in the basement, police said. Police charged that he chased her out of the house and shot her as she ran toward Hillen Road, with her children watching.
"I had seven kids. Now I have six," said Wood. Her union, the Fraternal Order of Police, has offered a $2,000 reward for Brown's capture. "There is nothing anybody can do to comfort someone who has lost a child. Children are supposed to bury their parents. Parents are not supposed to bury their children."
Pub Date: 2/14/97